Cathcart, Michael: Defending the National Tuckshop

Michael Cathcart

Defending the National Tuckshop: Australia’s Secret Army Intrigue of 1931, McPhee Gribble/Penguin, Melbourne, 1988

Describes the anti-socialist vigilantism during the Great Depression, activities which were backed by secret armies with thousands of members. Ex-servicemen were deeply involved as the Returned Services League turned to the right.

The most potent testaments to shape popular memory of the war were sentimental lies of immortality (“They grow not old as we who are left grow old…”) and the monuments which were set up in every town and capital city. But the culture had failed to find words to express the horror and perhaps the exhilaration which the soldiers had known in war. Instead, at the centre of digger consciousness there lay a great, inarticulate silence. The two minutes silence. The martial silence in the vaults of the Melbourne Shrine. An unspeakable emptiness – or surfeit – which set soldiers apart.

To the question, what was it all for? there could be only one loyal answer. It was for the Empire. Gallipoli and the Somme were not fought for an independent Australia, nor for Collingwood or Cabramurra. They only made sense if they were fought for an Australia whose heart was British.

These were the fears, the values and the evasions which gave the secret armies their validity and their mystique. (pp. 98-99)

Related material includes the holdings of the National Archives on the New Guard, Keith Amos’s now out-of-print book on the Guard and Amos’s interviews with Jack Lang and others about the Guard.

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